Cody Gakpo faces a far tougher start at Liverpool than Luis Diaz did 12 months ago

A year ago, Luis Diaz showed the value of adding an injection of real quality in the January window.

The Colombian’s £50m ($60.5m) arrival from Porto gave Liverpool the perfect boost in their silverware hunt. Its effect was immediate. Followers have taken him to their hearts.

Diaz needed just 10 minutes to score on his debut after coming on as a substitute against Cardiff City in the FA Cup and he never looked back. “We needed the boy like water in the desert,” remarked assistant coach Pep Lijnders.

Twelve months later, Liverpool are desperately hoping the acquisition of Cody Gakpo from PSV Eindhoven for an initial fee of £37m will prove just as stimulating.

There were certainly some promising signs from the Netherlands international during Saturday’s FA Cup game against Wolves at Anfield.

He connected well with Andy Robertson on Liverpool’s left, occasionally intelligently drifting inside to make room for the Scotland captain and forcing some errors with his pressing. His only shot on goal was easily saved by Matija Sarkic after receiving a hard pass from Mohamed Salah.

There was a nice retreat to avoid the attention of Raul Jimenez in his own half and then it was his seeking cross early in the second half that wiped Toti’s head and resulted in Salah firing Liverpool up front.

It was hardly surprising, however, that his influence waned before he was replaced by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain with six minutes to go. He had not played in a month and had just completed three training sessions with Jurgen Klopp’s side after having to wait for all the paperwork to be completed.

“I think I’ve had some good moments and some sloppy moments,” says Gakpo. “I can improve and keep working on those points and try to help the team as much as I can.”

It is clear that the challenge for Gakpo, who has scored 13 goals and provided 17 assists for PSV in all competitions so far this season, is far greater than that facing Diaz.

Rewind to the end of last January and Liverpool had lost just two games out of 34 in all competitions. They were in the middle of a nine-game winning streak that included six goals against. The momentum grew. Quadruple talks began to pick up the pace.

Liverpool played fluidly, intensely, organized and controlled. Every department of the team functioned effectively. Diaz just gave them an extra push.

What a contrast to the disjointed, fragile unity added to Gakpo. All those qualities that made Klopp’s juggernaut so difficult to stop are currently missing. While Diaz had the luxury of being surrounded by players acting at the peak of their powers, Gakpo entered a dressing room where faith is tarnished.

Just look at how Liverpool have lost their way after Alisson’s inexplicable mistake put the opener on a plate for Goncalo Guedes. The equalizer just before half-time was brilliantly orchestrated by Trent Alexander-Arnold, Darwin Nunez ending his fruitless run but hardly deserved given the poor performance.

Even going 2-1 up was never convincing and in the end the FA Cup holders were lucky enough to enjoy a replay at Molineux.

Single mistakes are costing them, but there are also major structural issues that obviously haven’t been resolved mid-season.

In the five games since the restart, Liverpool have scored 10 goals and conceded the same number. This is not sustainable if they want to salvage something from this difficult transition period.

With Wolves in a relegation battle, Julen Lopetegui has bigger priorities and made nine changes while Klopp, in contrast, went with his best possible line-up, knowing this competition offers the best hopes for glory in the coming months.

That context made this performance all the more concerning. Instead of providing a big response to the miserable defeat at Brentford five days earlier, Liverpool served more of the same.

Once again, the midfield department was a glaring weak link as Wolves sauntered through wide open spaces. Klopp insists it’s a collective problem rather than just one with his engine room.

“The whole game I thought we didn’t win enough tackles,” he said.

“There were many situations where I thought we were going to win a challenge and then suddenly we’re completely open. We had two or three players in the challenge going to the ball and when you’re there, well, you have to win the ball. If you don’t do that and they can get out, it’s like, ‘Where are they?’.”

With Fabinho, Jordan Henderson and Thiago out there, this was the experienced midfield trio that almost helped Liverpool to a clean win last season. But the decline in her performance was sharp. The lack of energy and dynamism in the middle of the park has become a recurring theme. There are so many loopholes to exploit.

It was ridiculous how Hwang Hee-chan was allowed to turn 30 meters wide and run unchallenged ahead of Wolves’ second goal. Later, Matheus Nunes, who made a classy cameo against the club who are considering him for a summer move, glided past Thiago as if he weren’t even there.

Thiago made six duels in the 90 minutes, Fabinho and Henderson only made one of them.

The Gakpo deal made sense. Liverpool had originally intended to sign him in the summer but PSV’s willingness to sell at a reasonable price – coupled with interest from rival clubs and injuries to Diaz and Diogo Jota – meant they acted quickly to get their man .

It would be difficult to understand if a midfielder didn’t follow him through the door in the coming weeks. A new face wouldn’t fix all that, but it would help.

Meanwhile, Gakpo needs some easing. The situation cannot be compared to that of Diaz a year ago. Back then, Liverpool was a different beast.

(Top Photo: Naomi Baker/Getty Images)

https://theathletic.com/4068016/2023/01/08/cody-gakpo-liverpool/ Cody Gakpo faces a far tougher start at Liverpool than Luis Diaz did 12 months ago

Russell Falcon

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